Year 2023 in the words of Safdar Sohail, ED SPRC
”O’ listen to the grievances of the reed
Of what divisive separations breed
From the reedbed cut away just like a weed
My music people curse, warn and heed
Sliced to pieces my bosom and heart bleed
While I tell this tale of desire and need
Whoever who fell away from the source
Will seek and toil until returned to course”. Rumi
My toil at Social Protection Resource Centre [SPRC] during 2023 was taken up almost entirely on developing a robust research agenda for such production-exchange-consumption policies which serve the objectives of a fit-to-purpose future Social Policy for Pakistan, aided by a critical understanding of the Social Politics of Value in Pakistan during the past decades.
In the old/traditional policy context, I have been working on these subjects particularly since 2007 and produced a good number of papers and reports. I rejoined SPRC in April, 2023. During the last eight years of government service, since I came back from Brussels, where I was serving as Pakistan’s Economic Minister to EU, I have had many such assignments, which have helped me lay the foundations of our future work, particularly my dealing with China Pakistan Economic Corridor as lead negotiator from Pakistan for CEPEC Long Term Plan and as the Convenor of CPEC Joint Working Group on Industrial Cooperation, my work as Member Governance Planning Commission, and my work as a member of Prime Minister Inquiry Commission on Debt as Special Secretary Cabinet. 
Most of my time at SPRC between its establishment in May 2020 and February 2021, when I went to Lahore as Dean of the National School of Public Policy, the government of Pakistan, was spent on developing a fair critique of the social protection regimes and initiatives adopted by Pakistan. At NSPP, I continued with the subject and organized a two-day Conference on Social Policy Financing in September 2022. At NSPP, apart from the routine think tank functions and speaking assignments, I produced Papers on the Decline of Values in Civil Service, the Future of the Tripartite Process in Pakistan and actively participated in setting up an Informal Economy Workers Unit at the Ministry of Poverty Alleviation ad Social Security and proposed an Alternative Model of District Administration to the Cabinet Committee on Institutional Reforms headed by the then Minister of Education, Mr. Shafqat Mahmood.
The stimulus, to get back to SPRC [apart from the pollution of Lahore] and to the basics of production, exchange and consumption in Pakistan was provided by the UNCTAD Geneva project on Green Industrialization. I also felt that a better understanding of the Social Politics History of Pakistan needed to better dissect our schizophrenic social protection system, oscillating between charity and rights’ approach, consigning the poor to a permanent apartheid like structure needs much more time then was able to spare while being at NSPP. In moving back to Islamabad, I have to however discontinue the Course on the History of Economic Thought to the Ph.D. students of Punjab University, Lahore, which I was giving with Dr. Shujat Ali, ex-Secretary Statistics, government of Pakistan. To take forward the exploration at a deeper level, SPRC is all set to establish New School of Social Politics  as a non-degree space of inquiry; learning and debate later in 2024.
We started the year in a rather pessimistic environment. During the event held to commemorate the establishment of SPRC on 18th May 2023, we asked leading independent panelists to present their critical review of the ongoing social protection programs and compared and contrasted these views with SPRC’s own work during past 3 years in Pakistan in the light of SPRC work during the same period. We were rather di-spirited to see the two painful realities juxtaposed: Pakistan has become surely much less egalitarian and all the Speakers on the four panels felt that our social protection program and initiatives had lost the way. Our State of Egalitarianism in Pakistan 2023 is based on the expert responses to the five questions we asked them. [ How do you conceptualise egalitarianism? Has Pakistan lately become a very inegalitarian society? If yes, what makes you think so and how did we reach here? What kind of communities would we be living in ten, fifteen years, if we continue without a major pro-egalitarianism course correction? What major actions should the individuals and the groups take to transform Pakistan into a reasonably more egalitarianism society in 15 years and a stable egalitarian society come 2047.], the resounding response was that Pakistan has become less egalitarian over time. SPRC is soon launching Make Pakistan more egalitarian program.
During the panel discussions on the 19th May event, the dominant message coming from all the four core groups was that the powers that were driving the BISP Cash Transfer Program had been unable to put anything new on the table during the past 12 years despite the fact that we had passed through the homological financial crises of 2013 and 2018 and were in the midst of a financial crisis in 2023, with almost a runaway inflation. I remember, rather sadly, that I had asserted during the GIZ organized daylong session on social protection at SDPIs Sustainable Development Conference in December 2022, that, without a radical revisit of the assumptions on which the BISP edifice was established, it would become another Baitulmaal.
As recommended by different Panelists of our 19th May 2023 event, we reached out to the Ministry of HRD and BISP to build on the discussions in the form of pro-bono knowledge and policy development partnership, to first and foremost make Islamabad a model city in terms of social protection. HRD refused to engage by saying that the subject of Labour in Islamabad Capital Territory did not belong to them. BISP appeared to be uninterested in our pro-bono knowledge partnership offer.
With the strong recommendation coming out of 19th May discussions, that SPRC should double its efforts at disability and elderly care in ICT by building bottom-up modern model of care in the city, we offered a pro-bono knowledge and policy development partnership first to Secretary Health, Dr. Fakhrr e Alam late May 2023 and then to Kh. Allah Dino, Secretary Human Rights, Dr. Naeem uz Zafar, Chief Statistical Officer, Pakistan Bureau of Statistics and last but not the least to Dr. Amjad Saqib, Chairman BISP to work together to make Islamabad Capital Territory a better place to live for the Persons with Disabilities and elderly. All welcomed and joined the partnership which activated the R&D Group established at SPRC, which now is getting active in-kind support from 20 plus organizations belonging to different Divisions.
Dr. Fakhr e Alam’s successor, Mr. Shalwani and the Additional Secretary Kamran Rehman and Mr. A. D. Khowaja have been marvellous in mobilizing their attached Departments in carrying out the exercise to quantify the unmet social protection needs of Persons with Disabilities in Islamabad. The Ministry of Human Rights has established a 3 members Committee comprising of Dr. Safdar Sohail [Chair], Dr. Asghar Zaidi [Member], and Dr. Rizwan Taj [Member] to redress the grievance of the elderly in Islamabad. With an active involvement of autism advocates, who are member of our R&D Group, an Autism Guide has been prepared, which has been published with the help of Mr. Nasir Malik, DG IT, Planning Commission, to spread awareness about Autism care among the parents and teachers. An MIS for PWDs and Elderly is being developed currently by Mr. Burhan Rasool, ex-GM PITB, with the Task Force established by the Secretary MOHR, headed by Mr. Arif Shaim for the purpose and BISP and FBS are extending full support to develop a robust data base of the disabled and disability in ICT.
Throughout 2023, SPRC has worked on a Green Industrialization Project with UNCTAD Geneva, with passion as we value the work being produced by UNCTAD over the decades to help developing countries get a better bargain from the globalization and from global governance structures of trade and development. The first output of the project has been the publication of a Background Paper by me titled, Key Binding Constraints on Green Industrialization in Pakistan.
The Paper has identified 9 binding constraints. [Poor Policy Conceptualization of Green Industrialization; Absence of Peer Pressure on the Industry to Green; Inadequate Policy Responses from the Economic Ministries to the Exigencies of Green Industrialization; Problems with Data; Lack of Green Innovations; Lack of Awareness on the Green Practices; Inadequate Availability of Green Finance; Preponderance of Informal Economy; Relatively Costlier Green Practices for Local Manufacturing]. These insights informed the research and production of 3 sectoral studies on Textiles by Mr. Abid Raza, In-charge Department of Business and Economics, Punjab University, Lahore, on Decarbonizing Transport Sector in Pakistan by Syed Hassan, Associate Professor, LUMS, Lahore and on Agriculture by Dr. Ajaz, Director Research, SPRC, Islamabad. Four sub-sectoral studies on Detergents, Ghee, Plastics and Cooking-ware are underway by a team of researchers from IT University Lahore, led by Dr. Safdar Sohail. The insights from these studies were presented in a Conference at Serena Islamabad on 17-18 October 2023.
The first session was on Key Binding Constraints on Green Industrialization in Pakistan moderated by Dr Safdar Sohail and chaired by Dr. Richard Kozul-Wright, Director, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, Geneva, Switzerland. This was followed by the Panel Discussion which included presentation on sectoral studies on decarbonization and greening of agriculture, transport, and textiles. The session was Chaired by Dr. Gul Unal, UNCTAD Geneva. The third session was organised as a Panel Discussion on Benefitting Better from International Climate Finance, which was chaired by Mr. Syed Haider Shah, Additional Secretary UN, MOFA, GOP, Islamabad and moderated by Dr. Safdar Sohail, ED, SPRC, Islamabad.
SPRC-UNCTAD Green Industrialization Conference benefitted from the eminent presence of the following speakers: The eminent speakers included Mr. Bilal Anwar, CEO of the National Disaster Risk Management Fund, Mr. Abbas Raza Shah, CEO of Engineering Development Board, Ministry of Industries and Production, Government of Pakistan; Dr. Amanullah Khan, Joint Chief Economist at Planning and Development Board, Government of Punjab; Dr. Syed M Hasan, Associate Professor, Department of Economics, LUMS; Mr. Muhammad Sajjad Moghal, CEO of Classical International Trading; Mr. Ahamd Ammar Yasser, Chief of Party, Pakistan Private Sector Energy Activity, UNIDO; Mr. Omar Masood, CEO of Urban Unit, Government of Punjab; Dr. Nadeem Javaid, Professor of Economics & Strategy, Karachi School of Business and Leadership, Karachi, Mr. Mohsin Chandna, DG Debt, Ministry of Finance, Government of Pakistan, Mr. Khalid Mahmood, ED, Master Textile, Lahore, Mr. Abid Raza Khan Assistant Professor, Punjab University; Dr. Ajaz Ahmed, Director Research, SPRC and Dr. Bashir Ahmad, Director CEWRI, Pakistan Agriculture Research Council.
The above debates around reindustrialization and climate change were carried over to Geneva, where I made a presentation on 31st October, 2023 in the meeting of the Multiyear Expert Group Meeting on Green Industrialization at UNCTAD Geneva.. I exhorted upon the need to imagine the Industrial Policy as an extension of the interdependent functionalities among the production [manufacturing], exchange [market] and consumption [society], which a society should be able to practice even without a state, if state was taking sides of the first two, as a big part of the total value in any production is contributed in all cases by the society. That is why the terms of socially unnecessary production and/or consumption have been coined. The traditional [residual] social policy has taken scant interest on the subject, letting the investor extract almost all the value from the production process. We need a new language of Social Politics of Value to articulate the societal interests in the production and exchange in a country. We have established Green Industrialization Development Collective to deliberate on these issues and held its inaugural meeting in early October, 2023. [https://www.sprc.org.pk/green-industrialization/]
In MYEM, a significant amount of time was spent on the discussion initiated by the previous Finance Minister of Brazil, Dr. Nelson Barbosa, as to how Brazil had saved itself from debilitating debt, which is going to stay it in a good stead as Brazil would be largely saved from taking debt to green its industry. The second major theme which attracted a lot of attention was the degrowth under-way, particularly in EU, as a result of ecological justice and/or as an imperative of socially responsible consumption. Ms. Julia Steinberger made a very strong case that there was little need to add new energy, green or otherwise as the currently produced energy, sensibly used was enough.
I also spoke on the nature and need of financing of green industrial policy in Pakistan on 3rd November during the Inter-governmental Expert Group’s 3 days meeting of Finance for Development at UNCTAD Geneva. I repeated the SPRC position on financing for greening that the challenge of financing could be better understood and responded, if we separately analyse and address the tripod of green manufacturing [in terms of environmental protection and social compliances], challenges of lean manufacturing [in terms of waste reduction and management] and clean manufacturing [in terms of GHG reduction].
There is little doubt that both the ‘E’ and ‘S’ of the Environmental and Social Governance in Pakistan are very week. Also, the manufacturing output is in decline, whatever measure we use. Despite the stringent import control measures and adoption of a ‘Competitive Import Substitution’ as a central pillar of Strategic Trade Policy 2020-25, the manufacturing in Pakistan has not picked up. The falling manufacturing has surely contributed to the rise of unemployment. With successive financial crises accompanied each time by high inflation has deepened the poverty in Pakistan. Sadly, the steeply eroded purchasing power appears to have contributed to the massive expansion in the second-hand import market, of literally every household item. We got an opportunity to look at this market in the case of Used Textile Clothing, in the overall framework of Circular Textiles, courtesy GIZ.
OUR UTC Study focused on the fast fashion and its environmental and social aspects. SPRC is making an effort to mainstream the debates on producerism and its impact on the future development models in the Global South as well as Pakistan. With a view to take these debates to the students, I gave a Talk at COMSATS University in Islamabad on 6th December, 2023m exhorting upon them to reconceptualize the Social Policy in Pakistan in the light of international experiences.
Building on the themes of degrowth and ecological justice and bringing in the US variety of Homeland Economics, I invited the attention of the senior management of the National Tariff Commission [NTC], Ministry of Commerce, government of Pakistan, in a Talk at NTC on 8th December, 2023 to reimagine the trade defence laws to make them fit for future, a theme which has been close to my heart since long. Pakistan’s exports are stuck at $ 25 Billion for the last 12 years. The appetite for imports in our major markets is declining. Our industries are neither competitive nor green. In many sectors, we continue with socially unnecessary production with the help of state subsidies with decidedly negative value contribution to the society. This reality however is obfuscated due to the misplaced narratives on exports and the hoarding of value captured, many a times out of the country, in socially unnecessary production at the cost of society and state continues. Our trade and exchange supporting governmental institutions have gone too far in chasing the net negative value producing domestic and foreign investment, endowing huge coercive powers to the accumulation in the country. But the government entities responsible for controlling these coercive powers are too old-fashioned.
When SPRC asks the government to curb socially un-necessary production and import, we are seeking a qualitatively different symbiosis of Social Policy in the production decisions of firms and government. Developing a robust Strategic Production, Exchange and Consumption Framework for Pakistan [SPEC Framework 2024-2040] is the major work that SPRC would be doing during 2024. In order to propose an evidence-based SPEC, we are undertaking 3 studies during the first quarter of 2024 i.e., Combating financializing of grain markets in Pakistan, Strengthening the nexus between Protection and Competition and Reforming the Social Politics which is by-producing inegalitarianism in Pakistan.
The SPRC team would welcome comments, suggestions and pro-bono knowledge and policy development partnerships to vigorously pursue the common causes in 2024.